Florida’s Opioid Epidemic: What Are We Doing To Combat It?

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Opioid abuse is an extremely widespread problem in the United States, and there’s no sign of it slowing down any time soon. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some 70 million Americans have used prescription opioids in their lifetime, while more than half of those who use them will do so at some point. But how did we get here? And what can we do to combat the opioid epidemic that seems to be ravaging Florida on a daily basis? The answer is complicated, and involves both social factors as well as medical practices.

However, experts believe that one major factor is driving much of the problem: prescription painkillers. Owing to easy availability, low cost, and legitimate medical purposes, these drugs have become extremely popular in recent years. As a result, many people have turned to illegal opioid substitutes such as bath salts or heroin instead once they began experiencing severe pain from their common prescriptions. Even better: because synthetic opioids are often just milder versions of the real thing chemically speaking—while still posing significant health risks—additional use of these types tends to lead to a greater need for it much faster than with other drugs.

What is an opioid?

Opioids are drugs that activate the same opioid receptors in the brain as the natural pain-killing chemicals called endorphins. This means that substances with opioid effects are also likely to have sedating, euphoric, and pain-reducing qualities. Many opioids have painkilling properties and are used to treat disorders that cause intense chronic pain. However, opioid drugs can also be used for non-medical purposes, in some cases for pleasure and relaxation as well as for pain control. Some common opioids include:

Heroin and opioid use in the US

Over the last few decades, opioid prescriptions have increased dramatically while heroin use has decreased. While the exact amount of heroin use has remained relatively steady, the number of people using prescription opioids has skyrocketed. In fact, opioid prescriptions are now at an all-time high. Why? Well, this might have something to do with the fact that prescription opioids are often just milder, synthetic, or legal substitutes for illicit heroin. Therefore, if people are already addicted to heroin and switching to prescription opioids, they’re likely to experience even greater dependency and addiction problems.

The opioid crisis we need to understand

The opioid crisis is a serious issue that’s had a huge impact on American health, society, and the economy. We’ve already seen a significant rise in overdose deaths, and the situation is likely to get much worse before it gets better. In 2015, for example, there were 52,000 opioid-related deaths in the US; that number shot up to 66,000 in 2016, and could hit 90,000 by 2020. Similarly, the number of opioid prescriptions has increased significantly over the years, and is now widely believed to be a major contributor to the epidemic as well. This means that the overall number of opioid users is only going to increase, while the number of deaths stemming from overdoses is likely to rise as well.

Controlled substance monitoring programs: How they work and why they’re important

In order to better manage the large number of opioid users and prevent overdose deaths, some states have implemented controlled substance monitoring programs (CSMPs). This can be done in a couple of different ways. The first and most common method is for doctors to simply check a patient’s prior prescription history. If the doctor sees that the patient has already been prescribed opioids for a prolonged period of time, he or she will likely be prevented from getting a new prescription. This enables doctors to better manage their own pain patients and also prevent opioid misuse in the general population. Another common method used to implement CSMPs is for state-run prescription drug monitoring programs (DMPDMs). These programs are run by state governments, and are designed to facilitate better management of opioid prescribing by physicians. The programs are designed to pull in a patient’s entire prescription history, including both prescription and non-prescription medications. This enables doctors to better understand their patients’ overall health and also prevent opioid misuse.

By the numbers: Key facts about opioids in Florida

Some 5.3 million people live in Florida. Florida has the highest rate of opioid prescriptions per person in the country. Approximately 2.6 million people in Florida have an opioid use disorder. Florida has the second highest death rate from drug overdoses in the country. Florida’s prescription opioid death rate has nearly tripled over the last two decades. Florida’s heroin death rate has increased by more than 500% over the last decade. Florida had more overdose deaths related to heroin than any other opioid in 2016.

Should people who are addicted to opioids use naloxone?

Opioid overdose naloxone is a life-saving drug that can reverse opioid overdose. However, research has shown that people who are dependent on opioids may unintentionally misuse the drug because they don’t know how to use it. People who are dependent on opioids may hesitate to use naloxone because they may not understand the potential health consequences if they don’t use the drug as directed.

Additionally, people who are dependent on opioids may be hesitant to call 911 because they may fear police might arrest them for using or possessing naloxone. We strongly encourage all people who are dependent on opioids to utilize naloxone and call 911 to save their own lives.

If you or someone you know is struggling with opioid misuse—including prescription opioid use, illicit heroin, or fentanyl use—we encourage you to reach out for help. There are a number of services available for people struggling with opioid use, abuse and/or dependence, and we encourage you to reach out for help. Contact us today if you are ready to get started. Call us at 866-963-7200.

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